This Week’s Thoughts: Securing your wireless network

Is a WLAN operator legally responsible for strangers connecting to his network and getting criminal? The Federal Court of Germany will decide on 12 May. Though, everybody should operate a secured wireless network — for your own interest and regardless of the court’s judgment. But how?

Connection and configuration as error sources

Wireless routers are pure high-tech. Normal users cannot simply understand how they work in detail—and how they send and receive all these data. That is why most people rely on the default settings to be trustworthy and secure.

Sadly, that’s wrong: Though newly bought wireless routers have quite good security settings as default. Old ones do not have these. And now few users make errors when connecting and configuring—and sooner than later the important security settings are in vain, your own WLAN is public. The device itself won’t warn… I think it would be a good idea for manufacturers to display the security level directly on the device.

Check security settings manually

As they don’t, you have to check the corresponding settings in the device. Just sit in front of your computer and enter a quite uncommon number combination. A quite complex-looking menu will appear. However, you have to go through this. You should pay close attention to the security settings—so everything is set as secure as possible.

Here the most important tips so your neighbor or anybody on the road can go online with your wireless access point:

Tip 1: Encrypt

Make use of a secure encryption method! Best are WPA or WPA2. If your router offers these, then do use it. WEP is considered relatively insecure these days and should normally not be used anymore. And in any case, do not use a wireless network that is unencrypted. Modern routers can store the chosen wireless passkey on a USB stick. You can then plug this stick into your computer or notebook and thus copy the passkey easily and yet securely.

Tip 2: Change password

That is important too: Each WLAN sender (router) is protected by a password. Most PC users keep the default password set by the manufacturer, or even disable it completely. That’s bad. As any hacker can manipulate your wireless access with ease. Thus: in any case change the device password. You’re done fast, I promise.

Tip 3: Restrict access

People with more experience can get maximum protection. In the WLAN sender, you can set which computers, notebooks and mobile phones may establish connections. All other devices don’t get a chance. That’s the most simple way—yet a bit complicated.

Tip 4: Reduce signal strength

Normally, wireless routers send and receive with maximum signal strength. However, that is not always possible. Especially not in small apartments. A reduced signal strength is often sufficient. Then neither neighbors nor other unexpected surfing guests get wireless contact, your wireless network is more secure.

Public hotspots

Am I legally responsible for actions that strangers take on my public wireless network? They might share illegal copies of music, videos or software. While that is horrible enough for private wireless owners, but for public hotspot operators, like in coffee shops, restaurants or at public squares, that would be a desaster. Here access is mostly always unprotected, otherwise not everybody could connect with their notebook or smartphone.

If the legal responsibility is coming, surely many of these publicly accessible wireless networks will be closed down, or get restricted access only. For sure this is nothing to be fond of in our modern information society.